Guest Post by Dr. Fern Crist

Virulent Systemic Feline Calicivirus – What Do We Really Know?

When Ingrid called me to tell me that Amber was making occasional odd gagging noises as if something was stuck in her throat, but that she seemed fine otherwise, I was certainly not expecting Amber to die within ten days.

Two days later, Ingrid told me Amber’s appetite was decreased, and she was throwing up a little bit, gagging a little more but still seemed generally fine.  My brain went on yellow alert, but not red.  After all, Amber was still eating and keeping nearly all of it down.  Her abdomen was not painful.  Most such events resolve on their own, and since Amber gets very stressed with hospital visits, the benefits of getting her checked out had to be weighed against the stress of the hospital visit.  It seemed wiser to “just watch” for a little longer.

Non-specific symptoms

But after a few more days of “she’s not worse but she’s not better either,” I hit my limit of “let’s keep an eye on it,” so into the hospital we went.

I didn’t think of calicivirus right away when I first examined her.  I could hear that her airway was narrowed at some point in her throat, and like Ingrid, I thought she might have a foreign body stuck there.  Cats will sometimes vomit a little if they cough hard enough, so the occasional little “urp” didn’t concern me too much at the time.  She had no fever, and her labwork and x-rays showed nothing significant.  We decided to look down her throat and hope we could pull out an offending object.

It wasn’t until I saw her larynx that I first thought, fleetingly, of calici.  The edges of her larynx were very swollen and her air passage narrowed at that point.  We passed tubes down her trachea and esophagus anyway to be sure, and found no foreign body.  The only real finding we had was laryngeal edema (swelling around the larynx), which can be caused by allergic reactions, many viruses, and a host of other things.  Laryngeal edema is quite often a transient problem in the cat, for which a cause is never identified, but in nearly all cases the cats recover as long as the edema is treated.  We treat strenuous breathing when present because it can lead to the potentially fatal development of lung edema.  So we gave her steroids and fluids, the standard approach for acute laryngitis.  Having seen such cases before, I fully expected her to be much better the next day.

When she wasn’t, I began to seriously consider other possibilities.  And here’s where the calici comes in.

Felin calicivirus (FCV)

Feline calicivirus (FCV) is an important and largely preventable respiratory disease in cats.  It is included in what we consider the “core” vaccination protocol for every cat.  If you’ve ever seen the inside of the mouth of a cat with regular old calici, you’ll understand why.  It’s nasty, very difficult to treat, and some cats are even euthanized because of the terrible pain it causes them.  And that’s the “good” calicivirus.

Calicivirus is an RNA virus (a virus that has ribonucleic acid as its genetic material).  RNA viruses can mutate (change) easily, which means that new strains pop up from time to time.  It likes to set up shop in cat mouths and noses, and is then passed on through pretty much any body fluid.  Calici does not die quickly when exposed to air, so it can be transmitted by such normal actions as petting one cat and then petting another.  Virus shedding is common in cats with no symptoms at all.  Cats with symptoms can have any combination of fever, conjunctivitis, ulcerations in the mouth, sneezing and snotting, and often feel totally miserable.  Some cats will develop inflammation in the joints, kidneys, or other organs.  This creates a variability of symptoms that makes diagnosis tough, and again, this is for the “good” calicivirus.

Virulent feline calicivirus

In 1998, a particularly nasty strain of calicivirus was described in California.  There have been a number of similar occurrences since, which appear to be arising independently.  What this implies about the mutating ability of the calici virus is just plain scary.  These hot strains have been designated “Virulent Systemic Feline Calici Virus” (VS-FCV), although it is misleading to give them all one name, since each is probably a new and different mutation of the virus.  They do have characteristics in common, however.  Their mortality rate is much higher than that of the usual variety, reported to be as high as 67%.  Most of the affected cats are obviously very sick.  Many develop swelling (edema) in the legs and face, because inflammation of the vessels allows circulatory fluids to escape.  Major organs can be hit hard, including the lungs, pancreas, liver, and GI tract.  Often multiple organs fail, leading to death.  Adult cats are typically hit harder than kittens.

To date, there have been fewer than 20 documented outbreaks that I am aware of.  These occurred in California, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Indiana, Tennessee, North Carolina, and the United Kingdom.  They have been verified by genetic analysis, possible because these mutants are genetically different from the garden-variety calici.  In each case, the outbreak was contained and over quickly.  And to date, there have been no outbreaks reported in Virginia.  But here’s the problem: we really don’t know how many times this has happened.  We wouldn’t, because the less dramatic cases would not get the attention and research that the horrendous outbreaks have.  Most likely, a lesser problem would be treated symptomatically and never diagnosed.  Cats get sick every day with diseases that we never identify.  Most of them just get better; but some of them die.  Unless there are many victims who are simultaneously very ill, a mutant viral event probably will not be recognized for what it is.

Since a successful parasite does not kill its host, it is nearly inevitable that eventually, a less virulent form of “virulent calicivirus” will appear.  And being less fatal, it will be much harder to spot.  A quieter calici mutation might not resemble the popularly reported VS-FCV strain as much as we’d expect.  An affected cat might, for instance, have only one or two organ systems affected enough to be a problem, and may or may not have swelling of the face and limbs, and may or may not have oral ulcers.  After all, the definition of a mutation is that is different.

Could early diagnosis have made a difference?

With Amber, the unusual combination of laryngeal edema with pancreatic or GI dysfunction is what led me to ask whether calici might be the culprit.  Initially, there was no edema or fever, but we eventually saw both.  We had multiple organ failure, including cardiac; we had effusion in the chest and abdomen; evidence of pancreatic involvement; and we found no other explanation. Amber had a positive PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test for calici, but that does not necessarily mean that calici caused her disease process.  We did not do a genetic analysis.  It might have been just an ordinary calicivirus which had nothing to do with her disease.  We’ll never know for sure.

Had I considered calici sooner, could I have done more to help her?  I believe the answer is definitively yes.  There are antiviral drugs purported to help in these cases; I might have used those.  I might have hospitalized her earlier in the process, and maybe kept her from going past the point of no return with drugs to suppress immune-mediated damage.  Monitoring in the hospital would have allowed faster intervention as different systems were affected.  Her surprise development — a hidden heart condition which had never shown up on Amber’s regular bi-annual check ups, but was revealed by the combination of disease, steroids and fluid therapy — would have been detected earlier and managed better.  She might have survived, and she might not have.  But she would, perhaps, have had a better chance.

Ingrid asked me to write this article in hopes that we can help make cat owners and veterinarians alike more aware that mutant caliciviruses are capable of creating disease scenarios such as Amber’s, and that this may be more common than we realize.  Mutant caliciviruses don’t have to be the total train-wrecks reported in the news.  Having the possibility of calici in our heads earlier in the process may save some lives.

This is not an alarm call, and it is not intended to inspire fear.  You should not lock yourself in your house, nor avoid the vet, or anywhere else where another cat might be found.  You should not give up adopting kittens.  Diseases will continue to appear, as they have throughout history, and though most never affect most cats, some cats will get sick, and in rare cases, the outcome will be devastating.

But if you see symptoms similar to Amber’s, perhaps this story will encourage you to wonder whether it could possibly be a case of a more-than-commonly virulent strain of calicivirus.  If the answer is yes and you intervene early, your cat may have a better chance than Amber did.


I should mention that there is a vaccine available labeled for protection against the virulent calicivirus.  This vaccine was developed from one of the mutant strains; however, since each mutation arises independently, there is no way to know if it would be protective against any new mutation.  It is a killed vaccine, requiring the use of an adjuvant, which we think may play a role in the rise of injection site tumors; and it is a new product, so time has not yet shown if there may be other risks with it.  We don’t even really know how prevalent virulent strains are at this time.  So – would I vaccinate my cat against VS-FCV?  Absolutely not. In my mind, the risk of vaccinating with a product as new as this, with such questionable efficacy, far outweighs any benefit likely to accrue.

62 Comments on Virulent Systemic Feline Calicivirus

  1. We recently adopted a little Gray Tiger named “Sullivan” . His is as beautiful as any cat i have even seen. Picked him up at Sandusky County Humane Society. After a day of filling out our adoption app, we came back to see a quarantine notice on the door. We were told he was “possibly” exposed to this nasty virus. After seeing his medical report, and them telling us he may die. We still decided to adopt him, mostly because he deserves whatever great life he can have, for what time he does have. I won’t give up hope, and i hope that his nostril sores are just from a URI or the herpes virus. i pray that is what it is. He eats like a horse and no mouth symptoms yet. He is VERY active and VERY loving. I introduce him to new toys and fun everyday,take cat naps with him. He will never be alone again.

    • basically i think all pets with or without viruses and diseases , but especially the ones with… deserve or love and companionship…. even if it leaves us totally destroyed over their loss……. I will personally destroy myself countless times till my maker tells me to come home, especially if i can look into any pets eyes and know for a fact they fill loved…

  2. I stumbled on this entry today while looking for characteristics of torti’s, I now have a lovely little girl “Aggie”. Looking over the constellation of symptoms here, I realize I lost my beloved Cassidy on mothers day 2009 to this awful infection. I did take her to the vet, she was given antibiotics to no avail. Had the gagging, inability to eat, myalgias and respiratory stridor. I was and still am devastated as Cassidy died in my arms… probably when her larynx swelled shut. Some things you never forget. I won’t. But thank you for posting this. My vet tried valiantly. I took her home rather than hospitalize her. I don’t remember if she received steroids but I know there were no antiviral medications involved. Again, Thank You. Kathy, Cassidy (rip) and Aggie.

      • My heart goes out to you for your loss.
        I adopted a kitty from the local shelter right before Christmas as a gift to myself. I am so glad I did but she came down with a virulent strain of calici. We treated her with steroids and antibiotics (4 different kinds) along with fluids. After a month has gone by and I am still feeding her twice per day and giving her antibiotic #4. She has finally begun eating a little on her own and is now moving about the house a little and acting more “normal”.
        I think we are out of the woods with this one.
        I keep antibiotics on hand at home, different sized syringes for feeding, KMR powder (keeps quite a while if kept in the frig) and pate canned cat food as well as human baby food (stage 2) which is the consistency of pudding. The beef flavor has a strong smell so sometimes if kitty won’t eat because they are stuffed up you can mix a little with some canned cat food to stimulate eating. I also keep unflavored pedialyte.
        It has been a harrowing and heart wrenching experience but I have been through this before with kitties. Especially shelter kitties because people don’t vaccinate. By the time the cats get to the shelter and get vaccinated they have already been exposed.
        My point in this whole posting is to tell people to be prepared. Cats are actually very delicate creatures and we need to remain watchful to keep them safe and healthy.
        Otherwise we might miss the beautiful experience of an endearing furry friend.

  3. Well we did go to the vet with him 2x, so maybe he got it there, but most vets are here are “deaf” to this disease and do not really care or what to do.

    WE let wilco go 10.30 am vriday, i noticed when he walked over my legs in bed that he was very weak, cause he was so tired, since 2 days his gums were getting pale and breathing went up………, so it was time to let go. I had to tell the assistant to put him down at home due to the spreading of the disease!!
    But I believe we opened our vets eyes to this disease, she did found some protocols but at that time she thought for a calici virus these antibiotics,and thought common are you crazy!!!, but know she starts she starts to wonder if they are right…. now she could see up close what this virus is capable off.

    I let her exam him after letting go, she was surprised he did not have many ulcers in his mouth, i said that is due to the calendula balm……..yes she said that stuff is really good.
    She was very respectful to wilco while checking him…..she also give him a sleep drug that would not make him nauseous.

    So I hope she is able the next time a cat comes in for the second time with calici, be alert, cause time is of the essence with this bug. She agreed.


    So what is the real protocol for my cat, or any cat with VS-FCV, you in usa are way further on this.
    To make the cat more comfortable with the ulcers, joint pains, getting it back to eat on its own and attacking the virus, please tell me your protocols and medicines… here in the netherlands europe its not known.

    How well does feline interferon works against vs-fcv, what to expect and when, good and or bad…..
    Please help?

    Back to feeding wilco,


  5. Today was a good day for wilco, he felt good slept well on the cats claw 🙂 but walking gets more and more difficult, but he is a bit dehydrated so we are gonna give him some fluids, under his skin.

    But the veterinarian doc(vets) are in one word a huge disappointment!

    I called 7, 3 never had heard about it, one of hem even not knowing anything about it but still claiming that vaccinations prevent this form of calici-virus, sigh, another one of those 3 said it was fip.
    number 4 said please come by, not admitting he knows anything about this strain, so no thats not gonna happen(I asked twice).
    The 5th knew a little about it and interferon, but that was it……no treatment plan at all.
    The 6th is a specialist, well several in germany, and yes they had heard about it, i have to call back early morning to call for ordering interferon, but when I asked about AZV azylklogvanosin big question mark, so i’m gonna ask also for a if needed a phone doc consult.
    The 7th finally my own, doc had heard about it but did not run into it yet and is studying it the next 24 hours, is very open about it, does not think about fip either(yet), calls me back tomorrow.

    I read that feline interferon together with azylklogvanosin woold work best is this correct??
    I also read that L-lysine also works great

    So what is the real protocal for my cat, any cat with VS-FCV

    • I’m not a veterinarian, and can’t answer your questions about treatment protocol. VS-FCV is very rarely seen in house cats and is mostly seen in shelter situations. You’ve probably already come across the information from UC Davis: – it may provide additional information for you.

  6. Hi,
    I think my cat has vs-fcv, his name is wilco, we have been feeding him for >2 months now, but each time the calci virus,(difficulty with swallowing, wet eyes, third eye lid red swollen(ulcers on it the last time).
    Since to weeks his rear legs walk started to change and i though omg FIP.
    He is miserable, not happy, lost a lot of weight and muscle tissue.

    Its night so let me tell you how we kept him alive so long.

    -We kept him live on a high protein diet blender-ed with magic max, or magic bullet, so we could use a syringe to suck the food in up(no needle) and then to feed him, yes his alertness came back.
    -We use colloidal silver drops for his nose and eyes, cause we already put 4 tubes of vet ointments in it!!! and it was still not gone.
    -It improved, but what really did the trick was a calendula=marigold balm , ot cream it should be yellow by nature.
    =paraffin and marigold mainly, it saves the tissue of the nose in front sides and on top, use it not to sparely, but make sure you do not block the nostrils, and we used it on the upper eye lids as well and under the eye.
    Each time after a feeding, 3-5x a day, we did that, first clean nose and eyes with a tissue, make sure you use only the tissue once for each eye and nose.
    -2-3 a day 2ml millecam+500mg l-lysine-2ml bronchofort for cats cough medicine

    High protein diet= just cooked chicken, chicken jelly from the cooked chicken, one raw egg, 2 full teaspoon high quality pet vitamins and minerals, 1/2 teaspoon lung-herbs, pro-biotics, and organic cream liquid.(this i left in the bullet closed in the fridge)
    At this I added when i made the food syringe of 24 ml-> 50 to 75 mg a day cats claw(50-100mg per 10 pounds), 2 drops cmd from mri(minerals), one capsule opened pro-biotics, one teaspoon colostrum horse or cow, 1-1/2 teaspoon dextrose. This I made for bedtime,


    during the rest of the day:
    I replace the cats claw with kyolic aged garlic liquid 5ml=5×30 drops, added vit E one capsule opened, and today i added 2 open capsules co-q10 100mg(good for heart and kidneys)
    The kyolic aged liquid garlic should be given 5x a day, but we only could give it 3x.
    Yes he fights both of us, and since 3 days ago he has difficulty swallowing again………

    We also gave him b12(cyanocobalin 300ug) shots under his skin just behind the shoulder was what he let us do(uhum), and gave him fluids under his skin with glucose in it, each time after the b12 he started to eat a again but just a little, I blamed it on the nose, never realizing it could be ulcers anywhere, poor cat….same with the rear-legs, my wilco has pain…..joint pain. And he still keeps going to the litterbox…… so brave.

    He got a bit better, but i could not shake the feeling that i could not get to the underlying cause, but I think thanks to you I just might have!!!
    I just hope I am not to late……I took him out in the sun in our garden and he was really interested, he is not giving up yet either, but he is getting more and more unhappy……

    questions mail me. or reply here
    Pray for my wilco……please

    My vet calls me back in the morning, i hope she knows what to do. If not I will call others….. and printed out all the above links…..

    Good books for reading:
    super nutrition for animals-nina anderson
    natural pet cures- john heinerman,
    both books do not mention vs-fcv but tell you what works or what to do…… just though i should mention..I learned some nice knew stuff and i know cats for over 30 years..

    Till tomorrow!!
    Clea. and wilco sleeping on the couch, relaxed.

    Btw the reason i gave cats claw at night was he was less restless of it!! Tonight he got for the first time 75mg instead of his 50mg. So now you know it all.

    • Based on your description, it’s certainly possible that your cat has the virulent form of FCV. If this is the case, he’ll need aggressive treatment, and quickly. All my best to you and Wilcox, and keep me posted on how he’s doing!

      • We sadly believe this just went through my cat family….

        I work in rescue.

        Long story:

        So I have had my own cats, many seniors, all indoor-only, for well over a decade. All have received FVRCP combo vaccines, but I didn’t do them constantly, as all had their initials and a booster here and there, and are indoor-only.

        A few years ago, I took on and adopted a family of ferals through a rescue from a colony that had to be relocated due to danger after the prior property owner passed, and made them indoor-only. They’ve been kept separate from my main kids indefininitely, as one has FIV. He was severely ill with a chronic URI that wouldn’t go away for months, even with treatment. I assumed because of FIV, it took so long to clear.

        Fast forward to this year.
        I ended up adopting two cats I had fostered for over 4 months, a mother and single kitten.
        She only had two kittens. One passed before the rescue intervened and brought them to me, when he was just two weeks old.

        He had fever coat, and now, going on 8 months later, still has a grayish hue to his orange fur. It’s odd. His mother didn’t produce enough milk for even one kitten, soI had to syringe feed him KMR twice a day in addition to her nursing. I added L-Lysine to the KMR when he nursed to boost his system as well. He got antibiotics and eye cream from the vet for possible URI with sniffling. (When he arrived his one eye was crusted shut.)

        They were completely separate from both of my own kids until their adoptive family backed out and I adopted them, and got the little boy vetted and neutered.

        They were mixed into my second group with 3 negatives, and my one FIV boy. They adopted them right away. All were updated on vaccines, including rabies and FVRCP, (except for the mother who is still not physically fit for her spay surgery. She shows no signs of URI or illness, however. She is separated from everyone when not under my supervision, and eats from separate dishes right now.)

        They only got introduced about two months ago now.

        ….The group they were integrated with, about a month ago, started sniffling and had some crusty eye corners, and noses dry and warm to the touch. That whole group gets L-Lysine daily just as a precaution with my FIV boy.

        (What’s weird is no one has had third eyelids exposed like they normally do when ill, which is just weird.)

        They seemed better after a week or so.
        I figured it was a seasonal cold or URI passing through. They went back to normal, even my FIV boy.

        Then, about a week or so later, suddenly in my main kids in the house…one of my seniors started sneezing. She seemed to have a seasonal cold and figured it would pass like it had with my other guys, but, meanwhile….one of my younger babies, just 4 1/2 years old, went into congestive heart failure suddenly. She passed at the ER vet. I’m heartbroken. The vet believes she had some form of cardiomyopathy. She showed no signs of sneezing, sniffling, or being ill…but I just don’t know. In a panic I rushed her sister in and we found out she has an enlarged heart, likelycardiomyopathy. Idon’t know if it’s related, if she was already in heart failure and it compounded her condition, or what happened.

        Over the couple days after my little girl passed, on top of my kids and Imourning, we discovered *everyone* in the house got sick, with the exception of my only unvaccinated girl, who is eating separately for now, because of that.
        I don’t know if her or my FIV boy could be carriers, or even my youngest boy?

        I have/had two 16-year-olds, two 15 1/2-year-olds, and a 13 1/2-year-old.

        All of my main group lost interest in food. Then everyone started sniffling, crusty eyes, nose, and even mouth. All of my seniors, and some younger, developed mouth ulcers, almost literally overnight. My seniors started limping on and off intermittently. I called the vet urgently. The limping went away as mysteriously as it appeared. But no one could eat on their own, out of my 15-16 year olds….I ended up syringe feeding all 4.

        Ourvets gave me A/D, sub-Q fluids for them, and antibiotics to ward off secondary infections. I was instructed to give both groups L-Lysine. L-Lysine is now likely a mainstay daily for everyone.

        ….One of my seniors, my 15 1/2 year old boy, started yowling in pain….on top of the aggressive URI, he also had stage 3 renal failure. (The vet agrees is more than likely calicivirus, but can’t confirm VS-FCV…but I’m 99% positive…I’ve been santizing my hands and shoes before even walking into the vets’ office.)
        I tried syringe feeding him so hard, poor guy.
        He was drooling badly, bad mouth ulcers, and when I syringe fed him, he couldn’t swallow, although I kept trying for another 2 days….Food just fell out of his mouth. He stopped even trying to open his mouth. I had to pull him out of his water dish. He just collapsed in it and almost drowned. He collapsed in the litter box, heavy breathing, as well….The vet said the only way to get him to eat would be a feeding tube, and the procedure would likely kill him with his kidneys and anesthesia, and he was suffering….We lost my boy. Our vet helped him cross over. 🙁
        I feel so awful.

        It feels unreal. 15 1/2 years with him, and then nothing. It’s like a horror movie.

        Of my other 3 seniors, my 16 year old girl only needed occasional syringe feeding. She’s a fighter. My 15 1/2 year old girl, had tobe syringe fed for about 4-5 days before she could eat on her own. She started drinking water on her own after 2 or so days. I mixed A/D and the warm chicken broth to the syringe with L-Lysine powder mixed, so she could swallow it easier.

        …Then my poor 16 year old boy, I had to syringe feed completely, several times a day slowly, for OVER 10 days….He just tried to sleep through it. He was so good, thankfully, letting me tilt his head and feed him slowly so he could swallow. I’m so thankful he’s sucha cooperative boy. He made it through.

        I ellevated their water and food dishes a couple inches so they didn’t have to lean over so far. That helped them.

        I gave everyone, young and old, Nutri-Cal as able as well. We warmed plain chicken broth and tuna juice to get them to drink more. I also triedForti-Flora and electrolyte powder.

        I’m still doing L-Lysine in water and wet food.

        It’s been several weeks now and I’m paranoid, but they’re eating, and seem to have cleared it.

        I miss my two kids and am so worried for my other kids still.

        • Oh Kat, what a nightmare! What you’re describing sure sounds like VS-FCV to me. I can’t even imagine the trauma you have been through and are still dealing with. I’m so sorry about the two you lost. I truly hope the worst is over for you, but I completely understand that it’s impossible not to worry after what you’ve been through. My heart goes out to you.

  7. Thank you so much for sharing this story! I have been a foster home for years and an well acquainted with the Calicivirus, as many of my fosters were from the pound. The last batch of kittens I had were horribly sick and after many sleepless nights and many rounds of meds, I lost a kitten. Though his initial tests had been negative, the post mortum diagnosis was FIP. I had kept them in total isolation from my other cats and was focused on the health of the remaining kittens. That was 3 months ago. Last night, my 12 year old buff boy, Moses began to cough and act as if he was going to throw up. He too sounded as if he had an obstruction. I opened his mouth to examine his throat and mouth and saw lesions in the top of his throat that looked very much like the old Calici I already knew. He became lethargic and did not come and sleep on my bed as he does every night. By 4 am he was mouth breathing. I found this article, and immediately rushed him to the emergency room. There it was verified that his throat was so swollen he could hardly breathe and they too suspected a form of Calici. He is still in the hospital but received aggressive and urgent care because I had read this article. I do believe that he has been infected with some form of Calici, as his symptoms matched Amber’s. I also have a wonderful tortie girl, and cannot imagine losing her. Thank you for writing this article, it may have saved my boy’s life. I had to go to work and had I left him at home, he would not have made it another 10 hours without intervention.

    • I’m so sorry about Moses, Camille. I hope he’s doing better by the time you read this. Your words brought tears to my eyes – it means so much to know that my story may have helped save another cat’s life. Please let me know how Moses is doing – all my best to both of you!

  8. Hello Ingrid,
    I thought you might like an update on the kittens. A second opinion was sought and it was found that the kittens did NOT have calicivirus. They had chlamydia and had developed severe conjunctivitis. It was feared that Little Chris may lose his eye, it was so badly infected. They began a course of treatment, including Interferon which is still very difficult to get hold of in the UK.
    I am delighted to tell you that they have made a full recovery and we brought them home yesterday. We are looking forward to many happy years with our new additions.

    • Wow, interferon is harsh, i am glad it worked out great for you. As a human that has gone through those interferon shots in the experimental stage…. i never want to endure that ever again. Basically it feels like the Flu times 10 when its at its peak. basically its blood chemotherapy.I feel for the little ones because it put me in a place where i thought HE (dbl hockey sticks) would feel better…

  9. Ingrid and Doreen,
    Thank you so much for your replies. I am awake at 4am worrying about kittens who are not even in my care yet, madness! The vet has mentioned that gingivitis may be a future issue, I agree that a full discussion with the vet would be a good idea. Ingrid, there has been no mention that it is the virulent form of the virus but their brother died last weekend which worries me greatly. If he had the virulent form, does that automatically mean that the entire litter will?
    Thank you for sharing your story Doeen, I am so sorry you lost your older cat. We lost our middle cat this summer and it was heartbreaking. I’m encouraged by your and Ingrid’s advice so remain hopeful that the kittens (Victoria and Little Chris-they were named after Olympic cyclists!) can make a recovery and join our family. I will update again when I have more news.
    Thank you so much for providing this resource Ingrid, and for sharing your story. Amber sounded like a wonderful cat.

    • Doreen, even if this is the virulent form of the virus, it still doesn’t mean that they can’t recover. There’s just no way of knowing. Keep us posted on Victoria and Litttle Chris.

      • Ingrid, I believe you had meant to direct this last post to Caire.
        But yes, they can come thru it. I have found out after my dealings with this breeder that there were several cats ill at this breeder’s house. He may have lost a mature cat. I know he lost 4 kittens (not all the same litter). But once they visibly recover they still can shed the virus, thus leaving other healthy cats at a constent risk. And they do occassionally regress. I wish it were ONLY an URI they suffer with this virus. But it is not, this is hard in many of their organs, thus the blood in the stool, etc.

        Also, a discussion Claire you should have with your vet is how will these kittens AND your current cats be cared for in the future?? I am blessed, in that my vet will come to my home for regular care visits. And she has a quarrentine floor that they MUST be taken to for all other care, planned surguries or emergengcy. (This would have to most likely include your current healthy cats as well.) This is part of that discussion you need to have with your vet.
        I truly agonize with you thru this. But you to be wide eye-ed to make an honest decision with so many factors are in play. I know it would be such a relief if there were an article or conversation that just told you what the right thing to do was. My head and heart aches for you and your stuation.

  10. Hi Ingrid
    I was wondering if I might share with some of your other readers…especially Claire, as she finds herself in a very similar stituation to what I was almost 1 year ago. (My post was Oct. 2011)
    My two kittens were already in my care, under quarentine when I last wrote.
    I had an 18 month kitten already in my home which was of great concern to me. I tried to find a home to give the kittens up to, to love and care for. But could find NO takers (being honest about their illness). During these several weeks of termoil my older kitten became ill and succumbed to Lymphoma. It was God holding these kittens in my home to help fill my loss.
    My two kittens were from the same breeder (housed together) but different breeds and different litters. One is a month older than the other. This you may like to know as for the contagon factor to your other cats at home. (No vacine protection is 100% guarantee). After trying everthing suggested by my vet, antibiotics, etc. To clear what seemed only to be a minor coId that wouldn’t resolve, had the kittens tested by PCR testing. They are postive and always will be for: Calici, Bordotella, Feline Anemia (can’t remember medical term).
    I have enjoyed and loved these kittens for a year now and am so happy to still have them! But want you to know that YES this virus can lay dormant for periods of time and be awakened and affect them. I have seen this in them. I also know that it is hard on their bodies. They already have poorer dental health than they should for their age. I suggest you meet with your vet for an indepth discussion of the down sides of this illness and how it can affect them. So that you can be prepared for it possibly times four in your case. Sadly, I must say that my house is closed to any new felines during the life span of my current two lovely companions. Don’t know if this helps as I know how attached one can become even though they are not yet in your care. Best Wishes!

  11. Hello Ingrid,
    I hope you don’t mind me posting here but we are in a difficult situation. We went to see a litter of kittens in August and chose 2 to adopt. It has transpired that their mother was/is a carrier but is unaffected, and passed the virus to the litter. Out of 4 kittens, one has died and one is likely to lose an eye due to infection. The 2 we had chosen showed mild symptoms but appeared to recover. They were given heir first vaccs this week and subsequently have had a recurrence of the virus. We went to see them today and they were a little subdued but not as bad as I anticipated. They were sneezing and their eyes were a little runny. They are being seen regularly by the vet. I am really torn as to what to do. What is the likely prognosis for these kittens? I should also add we have two healthy adult cats at home already and I would never forgive myself if they caught the virus and we lost them. They are both fully vaccinated. Any advice would be hugely appreciated.

    • Most kittens recover from the regular form of the virus, Claire. Unless your vet thinks that they have the virulent form, I would imagine that their prognosis is good. You’re probably going to want to keep the kittens isolated from your adults until they have recovered, but once they show no symptoms, it’s probably safe to integrate the kittens into your household. There are no guarantees, and I’d get input from the vet who’s been seeing the kittens as well.

  12. I have been scouring the internet trying to find articles on Feline Calicivirus hoping to find personal stories, facts, advice, etc. I came across this site and read Amber’s story and my heart broke for all who were involved. It is easy to see how special she was to everyone she met.

    I have had two cats for 11.5 years – Grendel and Gretchen. We lost our beloved Grendel very suddenly to cancer in June of this year. She and I were both devastated. She was not coping well with the loss and my human companionship didn’t seem to be enough, so I adopted a companion for her.

    I met a beautiful tabby that reminded me of Grendel and thought he’d be a good companion for her. He had flea bite dermatitis, but all his paperwork indicated he was negative for the main diseases: FeLV and FIV. So despite the dermatitis, I brought him home (08/13/12), isolated him and made a vet appointment within 24 hours. My vet agreed with the prior vet’s assessment and started him on steroids. I mentioned he sneezes quite a bit, but again they thought this was allergies. He also had gingivitis, so I dutifully scheduled a cleaning for the following week along with blood work to confirm negative FeLV and FIV. His white cell count was a bit high; the vet suspected the allergy and asked us to come back in a week for additional blood, so we did. At the follow up, all blood work was normal, but I was still concerned about his sneezing. With no eye or nose discharge, the vet suspected seasonal allergies because he seemed ithcy and began him on an Omega 3. The vet mentioned his gums were inflamed, which surprised me as he just had his teeth cleaned and I reminded him of this. He said it must be chronic gingivitis as there were no other symptoms present and sent us on our way.

    Based on the 2 weeks of health assessments given by the vet and successful through-the-door intros, I allowed him to start mingling with Gretchen…

    The following weekend (09/09/12), Gretchen (who has been fully vaccinated since she was a baby) lost her voice and seemed sluggish. I called a new vet (now in full panic and not trusting the other vet) and made an appointment (09/10/12). He looked in her mouth and immediately diagnosed calicivirus and said the other cat is the culprit. She was dehydrated and lethargic, so he gave her an IV and listened to her lungs. They were clear, so he does not suspect pneumonia; he started her on antibiotics and antibacterial eye ointment that I am administering twice daily. He thinks she is stable enough to remain at home, but her condition is not good. She developed a lesion on her nose by Tuesday and he mentioned edema. She will be going to his office every other day for fluids as well until her body fights this off. I have begun administering baby food twice per day as well.

    He does not suspect the “bad” strain and thinks she will make a full recovery as long as no secondary infections invade. The “good” strain is bad enough and my heart can’t take watching her suffer. I am heartbroken that I exposed her to this and the guilt is overwhelming…especially after losing my beloved Grendel so suddenly and recently. What’s done is done and I can’t reverse time…my plan is to keep them both as healthy as possible moving forward.

    I am very concerned about friends with cats coming over and handling them, then going home and transmitting it to their beloved felines. I am worried about taking them to the vet office and infecting the entire office. I am worried about moving out of my apartment then the next family’s cat (if they have one) contracts it after moving in. I am worried I can’t keep them stress free to mitigate future flare ups. I am worried they will just keep shedding and passing this back and forth to each other. I am worried my senior cat’s system won’t be able to take it…

    This virus seems very hardy and, frankly, I’m terrified. As you said, you can’t lock them up and live in a hazmat suit, but what can owners do to help prevent the spread outside the home and more importantly — how to keep the ones in the home healthy moving forward….

    I’m so terribly sorry for the loss of Amber.

    • Thank you for your kind words about Amber, Toni – and I’m so sorry you’re having to deal with this. I’m also every sorry about your recent loss of Grendel – that’s an awful lot of heartache for you right now. My heart goes out to you.

      I’m glad your vet is confident that Gretchen will make a full recovery. I completely understand your worries about contamination even after Gretchen recovers. Since your vet does not think it’s the virulent strain, chances that you will spread it to another cat “by accident” are slim to none. Since calici is part of the core vaccine that most cats receive, most are protected. While Gretchen is recovering, and for a few weeks afterward, it may be prudent to advise friends with cats who come to visit to take precautions before going home to their own cats. I did this routinely when I worked in veterinary hospitals: I would simply shed my scrubs on the way into the house in the laundry room so they wouldn’t come in contact with my cats. You can also do some very thorough cleaning for additional peace of mind. A 1:32 solution of bleach reportedly kills the virus.

      I also wanted to address the part about you feeling guilty for having brought this into your home. It’s hard not to feel this way, but all you did was open your heart to another cat. That’s nothing to feel guilty about. Nobody could have predicted that this would happen, just like nobody could have predicted that Allegra, who didn’t even show any symptoms, was still shedding the virus when I adopted her as a companion for Amber. It took time for me to work through these feelings, and it will take time for you, too.

      One step at a time, Toni. First, Gretchen needs to recover. Once she does, there are things you can do to keep her immune system (and your new tabby boy) strong. All my best to all of you, and please keep me posted how Gretchen is doing.

  13. Thanks for the interesting information. I am very sorry for your loss of Amber.

    But how did Amber get the virus? She had to have been exposed to it somehow right? Does she go outside? Do you rescue or foster? Do you work in a shelter?

    • Thanks, Robin.

      We’ll never know for sure how Amber was exposed. She was strictly an indoor cat. The most likely scenario is that Allegra, who I had adopted as a seven-month old kitten five weeks before Amber became ill, may have been exposed to it at a shelter, and was still shedding the virus.

    • Thank you Ingrid, for your kind words. All survived and are well! The foster one has a new home. In the end it worked out, but I did learn a BIG lesson. Do not try to maintain a large group of animals unless you can afford the cost associated with making sure they are well taken care of in the state of a crisis. Too many to take care of is not fair to the animal. Mine were fortunate, but there were lessons learned. 🙂

  14. Ingrid, I hate myself at this point (almost severely depressed). Back in December 2011 our So MS Humane Society had a fire. I opted to help one of the sick cats with an URI. I told them I was worried about the five cats I had at home. They told me it would be just fine and I kept them Isolated from the others. This past weekend the sneezes began (still isolated). All of my cats are ill and the shelter cat seems just fine in its room in a kennel. I am sickened that my life one month ago was challenging enough and then this. I have them all on Clavomox now BUT with six cats the expense is outrageous. I have an extremely small home that was partially rebuilt after losing it to Katrina (no sympathy card here it happens just explaining). I have a 14 yr daughter who threatens if I put them down she will hate me. I have to work as a single parent from her birth, and it is taking an hour and a half to prep all six (the one in the kennel too) twice a day. I have to keep my job which I am always late now. I wish I would have never brought this cat into my home. I am sorry but true. I am sickened and cannot understand how this can happen. Do you have any suggestions in helping my others survive this trial. I am not sure how much more I can take as my child is very selfish and thinks I am overeacting and has never helped me in general so I am on my wits end and I am very serious and I am not joking. I am scared I fear that they need more help. I am trying though,but need help with this. Any advise besides going to a shrink?

    • Betty, I am so sorry. That’s an awful lot to deal with all at once.

      Depending on how sick your cats are, they may need more support than just Clavamox. I understand that resources are an issue. If you click through on the link below, you’ll find a list of organizations that may be able to help with veterinary expenses. Talk to your vet as well – many vets are willing to work with clients in terms of setting up payment arrangements. See if your humane society can help out. There are always options, it’s just hard to see them when you’re in the thick of it the way you are.

  15. Thanks- I was a little worried when I read your cat had the same symptoms- the coughing- yet clear X-rays. Guess we’ll see. I just lost her brother 6 months ago to kidney disease. As they were trying to fix that it turned out he had a bad heart to there wasn’t anything that could be done. So I understand your loss and am very sorry for it.

  16. Wow, interesting to read this. I am going through similar symptoms with my cat. She started gagging every so often on Christmas night and making some murmuring noises and now even snoring. I took her to the vet her lung Xray was clear. She continued to gag another day so I took her back he recommended me to a specialist. They found a small mass on her larynx and then did a CT scan but found nothing else. Now waiting for the Biopsy results which are supposed to come in January 3rd,2012 meanwhile she is still gagging especially after she eats. The vet thinks it may just be a Trauma as he said he saw some blood in the tissue he biopsied. Should I call him and tell him that he should check for Virulent Systemic Feline Calicivirus? I hate this waiting game – and I just want to make her better and be sure that this waiting isn’t costing us time

    • I’m sorry to hear your cat is having such a hard time. Since they found an actual mass on her larynx, I’m guessing it’s something else and not VS/FCV, especially if you’re not seeing any of the other symptoms generally associated with the virulent form of the virus. I know the waiting is hard, and it certainly couldn’t hurt to ask whether your vet thinks it could be calici. Best wishes to your cat for a quick recover, whatever it may be!

  17. Please give me guidance…
    I have a healthy 2nd old cat. Two months ago I adopted two kittens from a breeder. While I kept these kittens in quarantine I observed that they just weren’t clearing the URI they came with.
    I had a blood test done, came back neg. for FIP/FIV. I also had a PCR done which came back positive for: Bordetella, Calici and Mycroplasma.
    I have been advised by my vet to return them to the breeder, it now appears that this breeder will not answer my efforts to contact him. The other option is to “put them down”. My question to you
    is: If these were your kittens, what would you do?
    Thankyou, I am so in love with these two little guys I just can think straight!

    • I’m so sorry about your kittens, Doreen. You’re in a very tough position, and my heart goes out to you.

      As I’m sure you know, it’s not unusual for kittens to have chronic URI’s, and just because they can’t clear the virus doesn’t necessarily mean that they have the virulent form of the calici virus. The following link provides one of the most thorough explanations of the virulent form of the virus:

      I honestly don’t know what I would do if I were in your situation. I’m pretty sure that I couldn’t choose euthanasia, but at the same time, I’d worry about the older cat. I’d probably get another veterinary opinion to start with. Perhaps it’ll provide some additional information you don’t have yet that will help you make the next decision.

  18. We just lost our Tortie Sunshine this past Saturday. She had a variety of little symptoms over the course of a few months and each and of themselves, caused alarm and most of them I wrote off to behavioral. The final chapter of her life started with a runny nose with considerable clear discharge at times, then sneezing, then blood in her stool and blood in her sneezes. Each symtom was treated vigorously, the running nose stopped, the blood in her stool stopped, then she had total renal failure. One day she was fine and the next day I saw blood in her cat box, then blood spots throughout the house. She was treated aggressively and with passion by our vets but we lost the battle. She was dehydrated and we administered fluids into her tissues at home 3 times a day (my wife is a nurse). The last day she had what looked like an airway obstruction or some episode that made her violently pass out for about 20 mins. Then we awakened but just rested her head in my hand. The vet met me 20 mins later at the hospital and we gave her peace and rest. Could this have been that virus….??? I will always ask myself if I could have reacted quicker or done more could we have saved her. She was only 6 years old and part of our day to day lives.

    • I’m so sorry about Sunshine, Ron – my heart goes out to you and your wife. From your description of her disease progression, it’s certainly possible that it was VS-FCV. It’s almost a year after Amber died, and I’m still second-guessing myself over whether we did enough, whether I stopped care too soon, whether she would have survived if I had gotten her to the vet’s sooner. I know better – these kinds of questions are not helping anything, but I think they’re an inevitable part of the grieving process. In the end, I think I made the right decision by letting her go. It’s what she would have wanted.

      For you, the loss is still so fresh and raw, it’ll take some time for you to come to terms with it. I hope that you, too, can eventually feel at peace with your decision. Be gentle with yourself, it’s such a difficult time.

      • Thank you for your kind words! We are putting together a photo book and our fun memories of Sunshine so we can go back from time to time and remember specifics. Thank you again.

  19. Thanks, Tamar. Both Fern and I have to frequently remind ourselves that we made the best decisions we could at any given moment in time. It’s hard not to secondguess yourself after something like this.

  20. A truly wonderful, honest piece. It’s hard not to think “what if” but just remember that you and Ingrid both meant the best and wanted the best for Amber. Your hearts were in the right place.

  21. Esme, I’m glad the article was helpful. I’m not sure what you’re asking though. If you’re asking whether previous exposure to the virus (such as through a vaccine) provides immunity, the answer is maybe – it depends on whether the virus the cat was exposed to has mutated or not. If that doesn’t answer your question, please let me know!

  22. Interesting fact about petting another cat and transmitting the virus-This has been a great article-thank you for your time and information. Is it fair to say that if your cat is never exposed to the virus they will not contact it?

  23. Pingback: Watch and Wait, or Do Something? « The Creative Cat
  24. Dr Fern…I knew you would ‘pen’ an excellent article and you did not disappoint! Working in a cat hospital and also breeding cats, I have been concerned about this disease for some time, but like you, still can’t bring myself to vaccinate for it due to the ‘mutation’ factor.

    One interesting thing that I read on the UC Davis Shelter Medicine site, that I must have missed before is that adult cats are more often affected than kittens. After what Ingrid went through, I too am now watching my cats more closely for any symptoms like what Amber began with, though I know it can vary.

    Interesting side note, in 1998 my mom (who lives in Oregon) adopted a kitten through a veterinary clinic that broke with VS-FCV, I don’t even recall if they performed a verifying test, but they were sure that is what it was…it started with a cough and then progressed to the the ear tips and paw swelling etc and was compassionately euthanised.

    The clinic was in a panic and saw no cat patients for quite some time after that…I recall UC Davis was helping them with their protocol in the face of the situation.

  25. I’m glad everyone is finding the article helpful. It was difficult for Fern to write (as you can tell from her comment), difficult for me to read and edit, and it’s still difficult to read. But if even one cat can be saved by making people aware that this virus is out there, it will have been worthwhile.

    Layla, there may be a vaccine, but it’s probably not very effective. It is very much like the human flu vaccine – each season’s vaccine only protects against the prior season’s flu strain. In this case, the vaccine only protects against the known strain of VS-FCV, not the mutations.

  26. Dr. Crist, I’m glad to read these details that I can keep on hand for future cases. I’ve had unnamed viruses sicken one or another of my cats four times through the years to varying degrees though each survived, and each time it happened I remembered the horrible cases of friends who had lost cats. We do need to be vigilant when symptoms appear and persist, and I wish there was a central place to track things so that we might have a greater understanding of these sorts of viruses and be able to respond better.

  27. Marg,

    Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your compassionate comment.

    I am always grateful when my clients or readers appreciate that we vets are not emotionally removed from the outcomes of the these events. I can recall one night, many years ago in my prior life as an emergency vet, when I saw 15 cases in a 16 hour shift: several were euthanized, several died despite all our efforts, two were DOA – and only one went home alive. I went home that day and sobbed my heart out.

    Thirty years ago in vet school, a professor told us that the humbling reality of medicine is this: 85% of patients get better on their own (regardless of any treatment we prescribed,) 5% die despite anything we can do, 5% get better because we actually helped them, and 5% die because of something we did. The evolution of medicine is the slow and tiny improvement in those numbers.

    The first maxim of medicine is “do no harm.” More often than not, the best thing to do is nothing at all. I strongly believe that our own bodies are MUCH better at healing than we are at helping. Many times, the best thing we can do is get out of the way and let the cat do what the cat does best – survive. But not always.

    My honesty is, I hope, a reflection of the good medical practice of critical case review. If doctors are to improve as we practice, we must be ready to look back and see where we could have done better. If our egos (or our fear of getting sued) get in the way of that, we cannot learn.

    Again, my thanks.

  28. Dr. Crist, that was a wonderful article and explains very well the virus. You sound like a wonderful person and it is so great that Ingrid has you as a good friend.
    It is so scary all the disease that these cats and all animals can get and we just can’t vaccinate them against everything.
    The amazing thing to me is all the feral cats that live around me, not with me, are all just fine and have had no shots. The ones that live with me have had some shots.
    I appreciate your honesty about the treatment of Amber. I do the same thing here, if someone has a little something wrong, my famous words, oh lets just wait another day. And like you said, it usually works. I have one cat that I just cannot catch and she gets all kinds of things wrong with her, and I prepare myself that she is going to die, and darned if she doesn’t get better.
    Sorry to to go so long.

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